Writing About a Different Culture

It was with some trepidation that I began to write CLARA. I had recently returned from a visit to see the work of ActionAid in the slums of India. I had visited women who have incredibly tough lives, sat in their homes, listened to their stories, and it affected me. I wanted to tell the world what I had seen and heard, and weaving it into a story seemed the best way for me to do this.

Over the next 18 months, I visited India several times. I contacted Tearfund, and they showed me the work they are doing amongst women in the Red Light District. I met women who had been trafficked, I chatted to sex workers, I wandered through slums. My eyes were hungry, as I absorbed what I was seeing.

However, how does one write about a culture that is vastly different to ones own? Does an author even have the right to try and describe things that they have never experienced? Well, yes, obviously – otherwise all crime writers would be convicted criminals, and all historical fiction writers would be time-travellers. But to do the subject justice takes a lot of time, hours of research, and some good advisers. I made some good friends in India, and as I wrote the book, when I came to a point where I needed information I could ask for help. Issues such as: Do people in the slums have shopping bags? Do they possess more than one set of clothes? Do they drink tea out of mugs?

However, every time that I visited India, every book that I read about India, I learnt something new. I sat in homes, I visited schools, I laughed with women moaning about their families (because whilst it’s tough, there’s a lot of laughter in slums too). There was always more I could add to my book. I began to wonder, was it even possible to write about a place when I had never actually lived there? But, here’s the thing, as I discovered more about the culture, I also started to ‘not notice’ things. Sights and sounds and smells which had bombarded me when I first arrived, began to be normal, part of what I expected, and I stopped being conscious of them. I was writing a novel which would mostly be read by people who do not live in India. Many of them will never have visited India. I therefore needed to include all those details which were obvious, different, unusual. Those details which over time, people stop noticing.

 

CLARA is also set partly in New jersey. I have lived there, but actually, in many ways, writing about life there was more difficult, because I had forgotten all the things that struck me when we first arrived. I had to refer to old diaries, so that I could see the culture afresh, and describe it to my readers. Which made me realise that, although a story written by a foreigner would have less depth than one written by a resident, it would also perhaps be easier to understand for those readers who are experiencing the country solely through the eyes of the characters.

 

I had, initially, planned that Clara herself would be an Indian. However, I soon realised that this would be impossible, I could not accurately represent her thoughts and feelings. Clara needed to be English, because I could show an English person’s reactions and thoughts to India. I needed Clara to be the one describing India, because then the book would be authentic.

When the first manuscript was completed, I sent it to a friend, who checked for anything which might have been offensive to someone living in India, or anything which jarred from a cultural perspective. She suggested some changes – mainly names – it transpires that a Google search for “Indian names” results in names that Indian people do not recognise!

In conclusion, yes, it is possible to write about a culture which is different to your own. But you need to be immersed in that culture for a while, and you need a lot of help from people who have lived it. Writing CLARA was a challenge, but hugely rewarding. I hope you will enjoy reading it.

 

CLARA – A Good Psychopath?
ISBN 978-0-9954632-5-7
Published by The Cobweb Press

 Would you like to buy a copy? It costs £11.95 from Amazon and in bookshops (they can order it if it’s not in stock). But until the 31st March, I can sell copies at a 33% discount, for £7.95 including free UK postage. Just send me a message via the contact form below, with your postal address (this is sent directly to me, it isn’t public). I will then send a book, and enclose payment instructions – you can pay by cheque or direct bank transfer. Why not buy a copy today?

Thank you for reading.

Anne x

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Feeling Excited…

(Cover photo by Chloe Hughes)
I am very excited. CLARA has arrived from the printer, and all looks fine (books are never exactly how I envision them beforehand, due to the restrictions with ink colours, plus when I’m writing, I have no awareness of the thickness of the book). Now comes the scary bit, which is persuading people to actually read it! I do have a sense of urgency with Clara, it is a book which almost demanded to be written.

I began, over a year ago, by writing the Introduction, which was actually a point midway through the story. As I wrote it (originally so I could include it in the back of JOANNA) I had no idea who the characters would be, or how the story would unfold, or if it would even make sense in the wider context of the completed book. I figured it didn’t matter; if the story took off in a different direction, no one would care, and I have read ‘tasters’ in the back of books by famous authors which bear no resemblance to the story when it finally is written.

However, this was not the case with Clara. As I began to write, as I spent time researching the situations I wanted to include, as the story unfolded in my mind, everything came together like an intricate jigsaw puzzle. By the time I came to write the part in the story where the Introduction would have slotted, it made complete sense. Other than changing the name of one character, it was perfect. As the writer, I had an “Oh wow!” moment, and had that butterfly feeling in my stomach that you get when something weird and wonderful has happened.

Clara was not an easy book to write, because the themes are sometimes uncomfortable, but it was a compelling story, and I think you will find it gripping. Let me tell you about some of the issues which I was trying to address.

Firstly, it was a natural extension of my story about Joanna. Before I wrote JOANNA, I thoroughly researched what it meant to be a psychopath. I learnt that most psychopaths are NOT killers, and are never convicted of any crime. They will though, be pretty awful people to live with. Which made me wonder, could a psychopath change? Could they, instead of being destructive, manage to use their psychopathy as a strength? Could a psychopath perhaps achieve something great, which a non-psychopath would find difficult or impossible? I wanted to explore this with Clara.

Secondly, my initial planning of the book coincided with a visit to the slums of Delhi. I was visiting some ActionAid projects, and I met women, in their homes, who have incredibly tough lives. I sat with them, walked with them, listened to their stories. And it affected me. I wanted to tell the world about them, and one way to achieve this was to ‘send’ Clara to India. Could I intertwine these two ideas, and write an exciting story? That was my goal.

I visited India several times during the writing of CLARA – sometimes visiting ActionAid, sometimes visiting Tearfund projects, and sometimes simply walking through areas and absorbing the life I was seeing. I made friends with people who live in India, and this was an invaluable help when questions arose while I was writing. When the first manuscript was completed, a kind friend in India read it through, to check I hadn’t written anything offensive, or that clashed with the culture. Originally, I had wanted to make Clara an Indian herself, but I soon realised this was too difficult. The culture is too different to my own, and I wanted to write the book in the first person, so the reader fully understands what it means to be a psychopath, what her thoughts and motivations are. Like me, Clara needed to be English, and to view her immersion into India through English eyes.

Weaving these themes together was a wonderful challenge, and although it took many rewrites before I was happy with it, I feel I have written a powerful book, perhaps a book that will shock. My editor, Peter Salmon, suggested I changed several parts – and my favourite comment (he writes comments as he does his initial read-through) was: “What the **** just happened!”

I hope it is also a book you will enjoy. It is exciting, but there are funny moments, and the story is an uplifting one. It shows how someone who is very bad, can achieve something that is very good. Would you like to buy a copy? It costs £11.95 from Amazon and in bookshops (they can order it if it’s not in stock). But until the 31st March, I can sell copies at a 33% discount, for £7.95 including free UK postage. Just send me a message via the contact form below, with your postal address (this is sent directly to me, it isn’t public). I will then send a book, and enclose payment instructions – you can pay by cheque or direct bank transfer. Why not buy a copy today?

Thank you for reading. If you felt able to share this post, that would be very kind. I want the world to know about this book.
Take care.
Love,
Anne x

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Being Shameless (further confessions of an author)

As it’s a new year, I thought I’d give you an update on the whole ‘being an author’ game/business/nightmare (delete as applicable). Actually, to be honest, the last few months have at times felt like a nightmare – but I’ll come to that in a minute.

First, I’ll tell you about Christmas. For a self-published author, Christmas is busy. There seem to be sales everywhere, and if you’ve been organised a few months ahead of time, booking a table is relatively easy. Prices for a table tend to vary, so it’s worth researching which fairs are likely to give enough sales to recoup your costs. But selling at fairs is okay, all you need is a good patter, and people will buy a signed book for their son, aunty or bookclub friend. Actually fitting in time to properly celebrate Christmas with your family is more difficult. I did rather struggle through Christmas this year in a state of disorganised exhaustion – so perhaps I need to have a rethink for next year.

Regarding Christmas, I must confess, I was shameless, and did a terrible thing. You see, when you’re an author, it is very difficult to advertise your products. They are books. Unless you talk to people, they don’t really sell themselves. So, how to raise awareness? How to best remind people that my books exist, and they said that they intend to buy another one, but they haven’t yet got round to it? How to avoid being that boring person at dinner parties who always talks about her books? Marketing. The big companies do it, so why not self-published authors who are struggling to be seen? You often see massive posters at stations and bus stops, advertising the next blockbuster by Lee Child or Stephen King – why not by Anne E. Thompson?

 Now, I wasn’t sure if Husband would be happy to finance a thousand-pound advertising spree, but I thought it unlikely, so I didn’t ask him. Instead, I looked for something cheaper than a couple of posters at Victoria Station. My solution was photo-gifts. You know the ones? Those mugs, and coasters where you can have a picture of your puppy on the front. Well, why not books? I have photos of each cover, why not produce some merchandise? So I did. I went online, found some that weren’t too expensive, and had some things made with the cover photos of my books on the front. They looked okay. But then I needed to distribute them, so they were seen in public – which is where the shameless bit comes in. I decided that my family would all like to walk around, advertising my books on a bag, so they all received one for Christmas. (Okay, so actually I knew they’d be slightly horrified, but I did it anyway.) They were polite.

 I rather like the mugs, which are a decent size and a nice shape. So I had a few made. I’ll see if I can sell any when I’m next selling books, which won’t make me any money, because they’re quite expensive for me to buy, but they will help to advertise my books. I have this image, of someone drinking coffee, and being asked, “What is that picture on your mug?” “Ah,” they will reply, “that is the cover of a book I read recently. It was really good, you should buy a copy.” I tried this out on the man who came to service the boiler, and gave him his coffee in a Joanna mug. He didn’t comment.

The nightmare bit of my job is publishing Clara. As it’s my sixth book, I thought I had the publishing bit sorted. The book was finished in the summer. But everything since has been hard work. My editor suggested I rewrote lots of it, which took me months. Then the cover photo was later arriving than I’d hoped, which meant the typesetter didn’t get everything before Christmas. Then there was a strange glitch on the computers, which changed some, but not all, of the curly quotation marks to ‘smart quotes’, which look odd in a book, so I had to read through and find them all. Which took hours and hours. Plus some words were hyphenated, which always irritates me when I’m reading books, so they had to be found and corrected, because for some reason the auto-correct function only worked on some chapters. I felt like everything was against this book being published. As I write, we are negotiating with the printer, and hopefully, Clara will go to them this week. I hope so. I am worn out with things going wrong, especially as I find the IT side of publishing to be beyond my ability level.

I need to decide soon if I am going to have another book launch. They are a bit scary, but they do make it easy for friends to buy the book. If I do, I need to decide when. I want to avoid holiday seasons, but have it in time for people to buy the book for the summer (when most people read at least one book). I will let you know.

I also need to do something about Amazon. They have changed their listing policy, so cheaper books always appear first. Which means people selling secondhand copies of my books show ahead of me, and those are the copies people are buying. So I don’t receive any money. I am thinking that I might make Kindle paperback copies of all my books, and only sell my self-published ones directly. The Kindle paperbacks are less nice, they’re heavier and not of the same quality as my self-published books. But they are okay, and customers can avoid paying postage, and I don’t have to physically send them out, AND they would be listed ahead of all the other copies (because most of the money goes to Amazon, so they want to sell them). I’ll try to do it in February, at the moment I’m still trying to catch up with life.

Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love,
Anne x

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You can follow my blog at : anneethompson.com

 Anne E. Thompson is the author of five novels and one non-fiction book. Her latest novel, CLARA – A Good Psychopath? is due to be released soon. You can find her books in bookshops or Amazon.

Which book will you read next?

Which Blog? – Comparing Blogspot and WordPress

Which is the best blog to use? I have been blogging for three years now, and although my IT skills are fairly basic, I manage to navigate the blogging world quite well. So, if you are thinking of starting or switching your own blog, which is the best platform to use?

I began blogging with a WordPress site. It was beyond my abilities to set up, so I had help. I knew what I wanted though – a website where people could access links easily. I wanted to write articles, rather than simply a weekly blog. I was therefore advised to use WordPress, and to find a format that allowed me to add pages. Pages are the links that are static – they appear on your blog when someone clicks on it. They are different to posts. Posts are added in chronological order, so follow, one after the other. If, therefore, I post a brilliant article about self-publishing, after a few weeks it is buried below all the posts I have added since. Pages, however, sit there, in the same place, allowing for easy access. People can find them when they click on the menu.

WordPress offer a variety of themes. I wanted a free one, and one that displayed lots of pages on the home screen. I found one with that option, rearranged a few things and changed the photos, then I was ready. Everything is changed via the Dashboard, which is found by clicking the WP Admin option in the menu. I can then add posts, or pages, very easily. I wanted a website address, so pay an annual fee for the domain name anneethompson.com. Everything else was free. I spent, and earned, nothing. It was lots of fun.

The thing I especially like about WordPress is that people can sign up to follow my blog. When they choose this option, they submit their email details, and then everything I post is emailed to them automatically by WordPress. It helps me to have some idea of how many people actually read my blog. Some are clearly people who sign up simply because they hope I will follow them in return. They opt out again after a few weeks. A few followers are linked to me – family, or people who knew me years ago, or friends. Most of my followers are complete strangers. It is always exciting when a new follower signs up, and it is very motivating.

WordPress show you how many people have read posts each week. They only show ‘visitors’, so followers of my blog don’t show up (they are in a separate list). Nor do my own views, when I click on my site to check it. The stats show me what has been read, in which countries, and the link that was used to access it. So, if I put a link onto Twitter, I can see whether that has been effective or not.

After two and a half years, I was unable to add any new photographs. WordPress informed me I had used my media allocation. I could delete photos, but they were then deleted from the whole site, so if people clicked on past posts or pages, there were gaps. To add more data, I had to pay for a premium theme. This allowed me more data capacity, and also meant I could opt in to have adverts added to my posts. I am paid for this service. Each month, depending on how many people have viewed my posts, I receive credit into a paypal account. It does not include the posts emailed out to followers (so I am assuming they escape the adverts). I wasn’t sure how much I would receive. For the first month, in which it had 5,000 views of posts, I received 13p! Am thinking that unless I have a post that ‘goes viral’, I am not going to paying for dinner any time soon, especially as they only pay out when you are owed at least £100.

I knew of other bloggers, who seemed to have more views than me. They used Blogspot, so I decided to start another blog there too. Setting up was very easy, and I managed to do it, without help, in a few minutes. I didn’t find a pages option, so everything I write appears chronologically, as posts. Like WordPress, you can add ‘tags’ or ‘labels’ – key words which help to direct people to your blog. A little like Hashtags on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. When people do a search using key words, the computer finds those hashtags and directs them to your writing.

I began to post all the same posts and articles on the Blogspot blog, as it’s read by a different audience. There is no option for people to follow my blog, so reaching readers seems to be less predictable. One interesting feature is that many more people seem to read Blogspot. Which makes me suspicious. Are there really more views, or are the stats unreliable? I can post the same post, at the same time, on both blogs, and put links onto Google Plus and Twitter. Within minutes – literally minutes, 20 people will have viewed the Blogspot post. By the end of the day, I will have maybe 30 viewers on WordPress (because followers don’t show on stats) and over a hundred on Blogspot. It starts almost immediately. I can post something, refresh the page and already, bam, 9 views. Apparently.

There are three possible for reasons for this. Possibly, Blogspot is a bigger company, with more bloggers, so when something is posted, there are more people surfing for blogs to read, hence the higher number of viewers. Possibly the stats are recording something different, so they show the people who glimpsed my Twitter link or saw the title of my post, even though they did not actually click on it and read it. Or, possibly the stats are inflated, Blogspot know that bloggers want to have readers, so they increase the numbers of views. Certainly I find that if I view my own site, it increases my stats (even though I have my settings so my own views shouldn’t be recorded). If you have info, let me know. I will continue to copy my WordPress posts onto to Blogspot, simply because it takes seconds, and possibly increases my readership. But my main blog, the one I care about and trust, is the WordPress one.

The main issue with a blog seems to be getting traffic to your site. You might write something fabulous, witty, insightful, but if no one reads it, what’s the point? To begin with, I told everyone who I knew about my blog, hoping they would log on when they got home and read something. I became very boring, conversations were geared to when I could mention what I’d written. My friends were understanding, acquaintances started to avoid me. The thing is, my blog really mattered to me. It was where I was investing my time and energy. But for other people, it was insignificant, and by the time they had opportunity to have a look, they had forgotten.

I realised that the best source of traffic is via social media. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc, all give a platform to advertise what you’ve written, and an easy place to add links so people can be directed straight to your blog. The trouble with social media, is that it can be very time-consuming. I am an author, I write books. Spending hours (literally) every day, on social media, is not what I choose to invest time in. For it to be effective, you need to interact with others, it’s not just about posting your own stuff. You have to read what others have written, follow other blogs, comment and share. This can become very superficial – I know that some people will comment on posts I have shared on Twitter, and retweet them, even though they have not actually followed the link and read them! If you look at Twitter, some people follow tens of thousands of people. They cannot possibly be interested in that many people. It becomes a game, and you need to choose whether or not you want to play it. It is a little like book reviews on places like Amazon – sometimes they are more a reflection of how much time someone spends on social media, rather than the quality of writing. There is nothing wrong with that (even presidents can find it fulfilling apparently) but be realistic about what social media is, and what it isn’t. Then decide how you want to find your audience.

Sometimes, I read other blogs, and they are badly written and boring. At the bottom, they have been ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ by hundreds of people. Other blogs are clever and interesting, and will have 4 ‘likes’. I think you need to decide what is important. Receiving feedback is lovely, but sometimes it’s delayed, and sometimes it’s private. I receive emails from people who tell me something made them laugh, or meet a friend who tells me they took an article to a hospice and all the patients chuckled at it, or I hear that an article was helpful for someone. That is very precious, and motivates me to continue. But, to be honest, my blog is not going to be paying for dinner any time soon. Or even a cup of tea.

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Thank you for reading, hope it was helpful. You can follow my blog at: anneethompson.com – oh, and if you feel like sharing a link, that would be wonderful!

 Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and one non-fiction book. You can find her books in bookshops and Amazon. She writes a weekly blog.

Author Update

Well, the business side of things is pootling along quite nicely. Gradually, more people are reading and recommending my books, and I sell on average, 10 a week. This is enough  for me to continue (which is good, because I like being an author!) I have more or less given up on big bookshops, because the economics just don’t work. Although it’s lovely to know people can buy my book in Waterstones, they will only order books through a wholesaler. I have to post books, on demand (so singly) to the wholesaler. So, the postman wants to be paid, and the wholesaler wants to take a cut, and the bookshop wants a cut. Which means, in effect, I  make a loss on the basic cost of producing the book. Smaller bookshops are different, because they’ll take a few copies on sale or return, and although they take quite a big cut, I still cover my costs.

The best way, by far, is to sell books face to face. I’m managing to do this by booking a space at local fairs and markets, and having book-signings in local bookshops. This means I meet new people, and can tell them about my books. It’s a bit scary, because books don’t sell themselves, and I have to invest time describing them to potential buyers, but mostly people are polite, so it’s okay if exhausting. I long for the day when enough people buy my books with no effort from me (other than writing them) but that is unlikely to ever happen. I have a few more events booked for the winter, and am hoping people will buy books as Christmas gifts. (Now, have a think: who do you know who would like one of my books for Christmas….?!)

I have also been invited to speak at various groups. Sometimes these result in sales, sometimes they don’t. But I think they are a good use of my time, because if nothing else it keeps me in touch with what different people are reading and thinking. One thing I have learned is that if you want to sell books, you need to be aware of your audience. People like happy endings, older people don’t like swearing (even if that is how the character would speak in real life), some readers want ‘action’ and are disappointed by literary fiction (which is all about the characters and nothing really happens) so I need the cover and blurb to explain exactly what is inside the book.

Did I tell you that I wrote a new book, about having a brain tumour? I belong to several Facebook forums, and am often moved by  people’s stories, how they feel lost after the initial diagnosis, and find it very difficult to find information. The book is specifically for people with brain tumours, though also has a chapter about family, and dying, and living with stress – so actually would be helpful for people who are terminally ill too. I tried to be very honest, and to say the things that no one likes to say, the things that, when you have been diagnosed with something serious, you want to talk about. I advertised it on Facebook, and people kindly shared the link. As I published it directly through Amazon, people can buy it in any country that has Amazon, and I’ve sold copies in various countries. I was contacted by someone, whose brother had just been told he had three weeks, possibly a month, to live. They said the book had helped. It is a huge privilege to be able to write something for people in that situation.

As we go into Christmas, I need to market my books appropriately. I have therefore invested in some tissue paper and gift bags. (You have no idea how hard it is for me to spend money on marketing! I am struggling to cover my costs, to spend money on something which would make no difference to me, as a consumer, is very difficult; but son-who-knows- marketing says that I must.) Am hoping it will show people that books make good gifts. No idea if it will make any difference or not.

The main thing that all authors must do is read. Everyone says this, from Stephen King down. I have recently read Mindhunter by John Douglas. He was an FBI operative who interviewed lots of serial killers and started the idea of criminal profiling. The book is a bit clunky to read, more a diary of what he did than anything else (and he appears to be rather proud of his own achievements) but I was interested to read about what he discovered. I was also surprised by the number of authors who base novels on his work. Thomas Harris (Silence of the Lambs) has based several characters on John Douglas and the cases he discusses. Harris’s work is barely fiction, it so closely resembles the cases and methods described by Douglas. I recognise ideas and themes later used in books by Val McDermid, Jeffrey Deaver, and others. This is a bit surprising. Do most fiction writers base their stories and characters on real people? Perhaps they do. Sometimes the characters are so close to a real person, the author has done little more than change the name.

I have also recently read the following books, and have written a mini review of each one:

#A Case of Need by Michael Crichton – very interesting. The novel is very pro-abortion, which I found difficult, but it’s usually good to read viewpoints that differ to your own, because it helps you understand what others are thinking. Whilst I found Crichton’s very biased approach slightly annoying (he didn’t address the alternative views at all, other than to ridicule the extremist stance) the story was interesting enough for me to want to read to the end.

#The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough – well, this was surprising! I sort of remember the story from the 1970’s, when my parents banned us from watching it, and my sister and I used to sneak episodes when they were out! But I have never read it. McCullough writes in a very descriptive style, and she uses all the adverbs that Stephen King advises writers to avoid, but she certainly writes a good story. I was uneasy with the ages of the main characters – a priest in his twenties becomes besotted with a girl who is a child. Anyone who has ever does any child protection courses has the word ‘grooming’ looming at the back of their mind. I enjoyed the story though, it was compelling reading.

#The Death House by Sarah Pinborough – not as compulsive as ‘Behind Her Eyes’, but still a good story. I’m not sure if it was intended as a YA book, as it read like one (but there was nothing in the blurb to indicate it was). Some unnecessary sex scenes (perhaps that’s what YAs like to read), but an interesting story idea.

 

#Love Like Blood by Mark Billingham – I always enjoy Billingham’s books, and this one didn’t disappoint. A fun holiday read.

 

 

#City of Friends by Joanna Trollope – I usually enjoy Trollope’s books, but this one felt a bit forced, as if she hasn’t written anything for a while and felt she needed to produce a book whilst not actually having anything to say.

 

I hope you have a good week. Do remember to make time to read something. (And no, if you’re a student, text books don’t count!)

Take care,
Love, Anne x

xxx

Thank you for reading.
You can follow my blog at : anneethompson.com